Verizon offers two defenses of indefensible $5 fee

Replies from public relations and customer service differ widely, yet neither is compelling

verizon

Why does Verizon charge $5 a month merely to keep my telephone number unpublished?

Verizon's media relations department essentially says it's for my own good -- you know, as in I should thank them, I suppose. They also say the fee is "chiefly systems and IT based," a contention I'm anxious to see judged by the systems and IT experts in the crowd.

Meanwhile, Verizon's online customer service department offers a completely different answer to the same question - and, as you'll see later, this reply is comically unenlightening. In other words, exactly what you might expect from online customer service.  

Of course, the real reason Verizon charges this $5 fee is because they can and people like me will pay. It's that simple, although not according to Verizon.

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Here's what I asked both Verizon departments, being intentionally verbose for the sake of emphasis:

"Why do you charge me $4.95 per month just so that I can keep my phone number unpublished? Please do not merely tell me that you are allowed to charge me this fee because I already know that. What I want to know is WHY do you do it? What cost are you passing along? I can understand that when I first asked for an unpublished number there may have been some truly minor administrative cost associated with fulfilling my request, but that was six years ago now and since then you have collected some $360 from me for this service. I would appreciate as much specificity in your reply as possible."

Here's the reply from a media relations spokesman, who first consulted with "a key member of product management with oversight for (unpublished) numbers:"

"The cost charged to offer unlisted phone numbers is chiefly systems and IT based.  Specifically, the costs we incur and factor into the monthly charge involve three things: quality control, data integrity and the interface we have with other carriers and directory publishers.  These activities help us protect the feed of customer information we have, and must protect, when customers request that their telephone number remains private when requested."

See what I mean? They're going the extra mile in my behalf to protect my privacy. And, after all, I asked to be treated this way.

As for the costs cited? Sixty bucks a year to not publish my number? Call me skeptical.

But even if some of us want to doubt the veracity of that answer, at least the media relations department took an outwardly honest stab at addressing the question. In contrast, here's the response I  got to the exact same query from Verizon's online customer service:  

Thank you for choosing Verizon. I have received your email dated 08/05/2012 regarding Verizon service I know how this can be important. I apologize for any frustration or inconvenience this has caused. My name is Roishawn, and I will be happy to assist you and also review the account to make sure you are getting the best value.

A non-published number will not be printed in telephone directories and Directory Assistance operators will not provide the number to callers requesting it.

If a caller requests a number from Directory Assistance and the number is non-published, the caller will receive the message, "The number requested is non-published."

It is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate to notify you that if you have chosen non-listed or non-published service, your billing name and address will be shared with your chosen long distance provider for billing purposes.

However, Non-Published customers have the right to request that their billing name and address not be disclosed to other companies (other than your long distance company) for Verizon calling card, collect or bill-to-third number calls.

Thank you for using Verizon. We appreciate your business.

Sincerely,

Roishawn

Verizon eCenter

Can't you see Roishawn sitting in his cubicle and saying to himself: "The guy wants specificity, I'll give him specificity." And he clicks on every single canned reply that so much as mentions the word unpublished. I couldn't help but laugh when I read it.

But at least Roishawn didn't try to tell me that keeping an unpublished phone number unpublished costs Verizon $5 a month.

(Thursday update: One expert says we shouldn't blame Verizon and instead points the finger at state regulators.)

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